Analysis: What Happens When Police Officers Wear Body Cameras

Use of force by police officers declined 60% in first year since introduction of cameras in Rialto, California

With all eyes on Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, a renewed focus is being put on police jeffbible_jeffersiontransparency. Is the solution body-mounted cameras for police officers?

“Thomas Jefferson once advised that ‘whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.'”

Sometimes, like the moments leading up to when a police officer decides to shoot someone, transparency is an unalloyed good. And especially lately, technology has progressed to a point that it makes this kind of transparency not just possible, but routine.

“One problem with the cameras, however, has been cost.”

So it is in Rialto, Calif., where an entire police force is wearing so-called body-mounted cameras, no bigger than pagers, that record everything that transpires between officers and citizens.

“Unfortunately, one place where expenses can mount is in the storage and management of the data they generate.”

In the first year after the cameras’ introduction, the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%.

It isn’t known how many police departments are making regular use of cameras, though it is being considered as a way of perhaps altering the course of events in places such as Ferguson, Mo., where an officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.

What happens when police wear cameras isn’t simply that tamper-proof recording devices provide an objective record of an encounter—though some of the reduction in complaints is apparently because of citizens declining to contest video evidence of their behavior—but a modification of the psychology of everyone involved.

The effect of third-party observers on behavior has long been known: Thomas Jefferson once advised that “whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.” Psychologists have confirmed this intuition, showing that something as primitive as a poster with a pair of glaring eyes can make test subjects behave better, and even reduce theft in an area.

One problem with the cameras, however, has been cost. Fortunately, fierce competition between the two most prominent vendors of the devices, Vievu LLC and Taser International Inc., which makes the cameras used by Rialto police, has driven the price of individual cameras down to between $300 and $400. Unfortunately, one place where expenses can mount is in the storage and management of the data they generate…(read more)

WSJ – Christopher Mims at christopher.mims@wsj.com


One Comment on “Analysis: What Happens When Police Officers Wear Body Cameras”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.